Casting Out Caste Back
April 29, 2019
Originally Published In
In 1976, when I was imprisoned in Yerwada jail during the Emergency, one of our barrack-mates was Gopalrao Mane, from Kolhapur. I remember him because he used to work for the rehabilitation of the children of sex workers. When I share this with friends, it comes as a cultural shock. But the fact is, right since the days of the Jan Sangh, the BJP has steadfastly worked for the cause of social equality. It is our conviction that, without a transformation of our traditional mindset, equality will not be possible. More than public agitations, what ultimately works for social equality is the principle of social justice and actions for emotional integration through harmony or samarasta. Both of these are interdependent. This explains why the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, way back in the late 1990s, took the extraordinary initiative of changing the name of the Ministry of Social Welfare to the Ministry of Social Justice.
The divide-and-rule’ policy helped the British rule India for 150 long years. Post-Independence, it was believed our own rulers would follow an approach that prevents further fragmentation of society. But, unfortunately, the Congress governments succumbed to caste-based pressure groups, giving a clear signal that they were ready to make any compromise on the basic tenets of social integration. As pointed out by many researchers, the first-past-the-post voting system also added to our societal divisions in no uncertain terms.
Barring a few catch-all’ parties like the BJP, most regional parties in India have earned their social identity on the basis of the caste groups they associate with. So, obviously, strengthening this caste vote bank remains their only agenda for political survival. From Tamil Nadu to Uttar Pradesh, the story is the same. In such a situation, most regional parties have also turned their backs on the ideal of creating a casteless society.
The BJP, right since the Jan Sangh days, has pursued the antyodaya causegiving first preference to the most deprived. Deendayal Upadhyaya, as a candidate in the 1963 Lok Sabha byelection in Jaunpur, opposed the suggestion that he exploit his caste identity to get votes. Even in the face of clear defeat, he took a principled stand. For him, discrimination was inherent to the political exploitation of caste identities. Two decades later, Balasaheb Deoras, the third RSS sarsanghchalak, reaffirmed the stand in 1983: Untouchability is a sad, unfortunate aspect of our social inequality.... Whatever its origins, all of us consider untouchability a terrible folly and it must, of necessity, be thrown out lock, stock and barrel.... It is for all of us to declare, If untouchability is not wrong, then nothing in the world is wrong’.
This is the ideological legacy the BJP carries forward. It is perhaps the only party that has adopted some kind of informal affirmative action in favour of women and the socially backward sections within the organisation. That for years now the BJP has had the largest number of Lok Sabha MPs from the SC/ ST constituencies is proof that the party has been fairly successful in assimilating the socially weaker sections.
Decades back, Babasaheb Ambedkar had stressed the need for promoting traditional entrepreneurial traits amongst the Scheduled Castes. In a fervent appeal to youngsters, he had asked them to aspire to become job givers and not job seekers. The core thought behind this appeal had come some 50 years before to Madhukar Deval, an ex-RSS pracharak who initiated a unique project at Mhaisal, near Sangli in Maharashtra. Aimed at the economic emancipation of Dalits through cooperative farming, the projectlater known as the Mhaisal model’remains a landmark success. Again, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who conceived the imaginative Mudra scheme to promote entrepreneurship among the socially disadvantaged sections. Out of its 160 million beneficiaries, more than 42.5 million are first-time loan seekers. This has certainly reduced the economic and social vulnerability of members of the SC/ ST communities.
After all, equality cannot be unidimensional. Equality, as envisaged by the likes of Dr Ambedkar, has three principal dimensionssociety and state together ensuring equality of opportunity, dignity and security. An example here is the success of the government in partnership with the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DICCI). It has yielded wonderful results, such as liberating a few hundred manual scavengers from Hyderabad and Delhi, and making them entrepreneurs.
All this can happen only when a government is genuinely sensitive to the agonies and aspirations of the weaker sections. The Modi government has demonstrated its commitment to social justice, which is why the BJP is seeking votes not in the name of caste, but on the basis of successful measures to end discrimination. The path to the withering away of castes leads the same way.